Community Safety and Crime Update
At the Full Council meeting on Tuesday 17 October 2023, the Leader committed to bringing forward an update report on crime and fear of crime within Gravesham. Therefore, the report presented to the Cabinet sets out that update.
In considering Kent Police recorded crime data, it was important to note that whilst the Council was very committed to working in partnership with all statutory partners in reducing crime in the borough (and the Local Authority had a number of powers and tools that it can and does use to support that endeavour) it was not a primary law enforcement agency when it came to tackling criminal behaviour. The key agencies with that remit remained to be Kent Police and the Probation Service.
The Director (Communities and Inclusive Growth) advised that the report set out the crime rates within Gravesham for different offences and highlighted that all districts in Kent (bar Tonbridge and Malling) had recorded a decrease in total crime with an average reduction countywide of 4.7%. During the same period, Gravesham had recorded the third greatest decrease of 7.8%, further reducing the rate of total crime per 1,000 population in the Borough to 100.1 offences. Whilst this still remained higher than the average Kent rate of 92.5 offences, this was an indication of improvement being sustained and that crime locally was falling at a faster rate than in most parts of the county.
Despite the overall reduction in crime across the borough, fear of crime remained a major issue for residents and visitors, particularly within Gravesend Town Centre. Isolated cases of violent crime often receive significant press and social media attention and leads to rumours and falsehoods spreading online. Prominent antisocial behaviour from street drinkers and large numbers of school age children in certain parts of the town centre were also contributors to this overall perception of crime being on the rise, when it was in fact falling under nearly all measures.
The Cabinet was informed that Council officers recently undertook a Nighttime Economy Audit, spending the evening in Gravesend Town Centre speaking to members of the public and reviewing how safe venues and public spaces felt. When members of the public were asked how safe they felt in Gravesend Town Centre of an evening, the most common response was a rating of 7 out of 10. This figure would however look very different if the question was asked of people who do not go into the town centre at night, suggesting that those using the town centre of an evening were more likely to feel safe than those put off by social media or local news stories.
A common theme when discussing feelings of safety in Gravesend Town Centre of an evening, was that people feel less safe when an area was quiet. Since the start of the pandemic, the town centre’s nighttime economy had declined, with less late-night venues and a subsequent reduction in footfall. Whilst this had a positive impact on crime levels and anti-social behaviour, it had conversely made the town centre feel empty at night. In order to address this issue and support the development of a thriving evening economy, work was underway to develop a stronger family friendly early evening (‘twilight’) economy. This work will build upon the recent partnership with the Government’s High Streets Taskforce, prioritise the Twilight Economy as part of a wider Town Centre Vision and measure its impact and growth through the emerging Economic Development strategy (‘Business Gravesham’). Increasing footfall will not only help people to feel safer, but it will also provide a greater element of ‘self-policing’.
Gravesend Town Centre will continue to be a priority area for Kent Police, the Council and other statutory partners of the Gravesham Community Safety Partnership (CSP).
The Council will also continue to actively encourage members of the public and businesses through regular engagement with them either working in collaboration with G-Safe (Business Crime Reduction Initiative) or through public engagement activities. The Council was also working actively with business and retail premises in the town centre to encourage participation in several key projects to help people feel safe such as Best Bar None and the Safe Space Initiative. It should also be noted that where the Council had specific powers, it uses those powers where possible.
The Cabinet reiterated that the Council was not the primary law enforcement agency when it came to tackling criminal behaviour however it was committed to working in partnership with statutory partners, business and retail premises in reducing crime and helping people feel safe. For those areas that the Council was responsible for, it tries to take a proactive approach i.e. environmental crime.
The Cabinet stated that, although it was positive that there had been a decrease in total crime, it was really important that all levels of crime continued to be reported by the public to Kent Police as the Police will allocate its resources to those areas where crime may be on the rise.
The Cabinet thanked Kent Police for its partnership working and advised that the Council will continue to work with the Police, sharing its views on areas for improvement, for example it was really important for the Police to provide some form of feedback to the public when a crime or incident has been reported.
The Strategic Manager (Community Safety) confirmed that Gravesham’s Community Safety Unit had strong links with Kent Police and advised that it also worked closely with the Communications Team to ensures that key projects/initiatives were publicised as well as seasonal messaging with regard to public safety.
The Cabinet noted the information contained within the report.